30th August 2018 – Ballestas Island

I’ve booked to do the 10am Ballestas Island tour today, which means I get to enjoy a lie in and a leisurely breakfast before heading out. Kokopelli do an okay spread – essentially one portion of scrambled eggs (you need to tick your name off) and then unlimited bread rolls, tomato slices, butter, passion fruit juice, tea and coffee. Not a big fan of scrambled eggs, but it’s cooked well enough that I can’t complain.

You know, of all the things I thought I’d like in Peru food wise, bread was pretty low on the list, but they really know how to cook a decent roll. Yet to have one that wasn’t one of the nicest parts of the meal. I end up having 2 of their french rolls at breakfast alone.

The meeting point for the trip is in front of the La Frayes hotel, and you’re meant to be there 15 minutes early, so I head up just before then – the next Peru Hop has also arrived and the place is pretty busy with people hollering off names to get the lists – I make it just as a gentleman calls my name and get pulled to the side, and we head off five minutes later for the dock.

It’s extremely crowded with people waiting for boats, but we get to the front of the line and hop into a small boat with seats on each side, and head out of the harbour. Our guide is giving the tour in both Spanish and English, but he doesn’t start talking until we get to our very first stop on the Paracas Peninsula – the giant San Pedro Cactus.

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This odd shape carved into the sand is a tad mysterious, as no one knows exactly who drew it or how long ago. It’s essentially just drawn into the sand, but thanks to the nature of where it was drawn, it requires no upkeep. There’s no rain, and the salt from the water just hardens the salt, while the wind gets buffered by other parts of the landscape and doesn’t hit – however, this all means it’s next to impossible to date. There are two popular theories, either that it was drawn by the Paracan people – who predate the incas – as they highly cherished the cactus for ceremonial use (apparently it’s a halluginogenic), or it was made sometime in the fifteenth/sixteenth century by pirates needing a landmark to help them with their boats. This holds some water as the drawing does fit onto South/North lines.

It’s another ten minutes till we make it to Ballestas – and we stop midway when we get an awesome surprise in the form of a pod of dolphins diving around our boats. They were mostly on the right side – and as I was seated on the left didn’t see as much as I’d like – but I did catch a few on my side hopping through the water before they headed away.

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Ballestas Island is often referred to as a ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ due to it’s unique ecostructure. It’s home to sealions and multiple bird species, including the humbolt penguin, which is making a strong comeback after being on the endangered list. There was a small group of them on the side when we arrived.

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The island gets the name ‘Ballestas’ form the giant hold in the side of it. To fisherman, the hole looks a little like an archer pulling back. It was made a nature preserve in the 1970’s, and only sees a small amount of human interaction unlike the desert on land. Although there are manmade structures here, and a small crew stationed here to watch what happens, nobody is allowed to swim or walk on the island recreationally. Fisheman can come close, but otherwise the only exception is the bird guano collection, which is done every 7 years.

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The most prominent bird on the island is probably the paracan boobie, a bird with a similar shape and size to a gull. They teem on the first part of the island, and we were even lucky enough to see a small nest with babies as we coasted by. Another part of the island is coated with so many cormorants it’s turned the island black, and one solitary vulture stands to attention on one of the bridges, ready to clean up any dead birds and maintain health.

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There are also dozens of sealions dozing on the smaller rocks popping up around the inner radius. During pup season these seals normally find themselves on one of the red coloured beaches for birth, but the rest of the time they’re happy to hang around any rock they can find. Ballestas is great for them, because there are no natural predators in these waters – although they also have to tolerate water that is a tad too warm for them in the summer because of it.

It’s not somewhere I’d ever call beautiful – there’s not a single plant on the island, just rocks, sand and birds – but it’s clearly a lifeline for all these creatures, and works very well for them. It’s definitely worth the trip if you’re coming to Paracas.

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28th August 2018 – Lima

I had planned to spend the day exploring the Miraflores and photographing anything I found interesting, andn go check out the catacombs. However, when I wake up, it’s to a new discovery – a pair of red, rash-like rings around my ankles. Google search suggests it could be anything from ‘the Disney Rash’ to blood clots, but either way I need to try and treat it. I don’t really have any medication outside of aloe vera, but most websites recommend regardless of the issue, to keep my feet elevated over my heart. As such I spend most of the morning lying on a sofa in the communal area, trying to improve the circulation.

It definitely has an effect. Come the afternoon the redness has reduced significantly, and I risk heading out. My first point of call is a Tourist Information building I’d seen that offered advice on SIM cards, which is something I desperately need. The lovely Claudia directs me to Claro, which is just up the street.

This is like the Argos of phone shops. You have to go to a receptionist, who gives you a ticket number with what you want. Then you go to a waiting area and wait for someone to call your number. At this point, you pray they know some English, and if not, ‘prepaygo’ will get you a piece of paper with a list of prices. Since the arrival of Whats App, most travelers don’t need minutes, and Claro offer some very reasonably priced data plans – provided you can offer a foreign passport. I went for their largest one – 3gb for 30 soles, plus another 5 for the SIM. Then I needed to go to another counter to pay, then bring the receipt back to your server so they can install the SIM. I celebrated having a signal again by slamming open Pokemon Go, and managing to hunt down a region locked Corsola in a matter of minutes!

Afterwards, I decide I need to at least try to do something with my final day, and commit to using the buses to get to the catacombs at San Francisco church. You do have to buy a card for 5 soles to use it which is a little frustrating for short term travelers, but at least I knew I had a return ticket. The station you need for the Kennedy Park area is Ricardo Palma, but even though we’d used the bus with the walking tour, I found myself a tad overwhelmed when it came to getting myself there – especially since I couldn’t remember the station’s name. I knew it was on line C, but that was it. Spent a good five minutes hemming and hawing in front of a map and trying to make sense of it (internet was woefully inept at helping me navigate) when an English speaking security guard managed to tell me I wanted Jr de la Union station. 20 minutes later, I’m back in familiar streets.

…Or so I thought. I end up taking a wrong turn and ending up in a much different area. Not that I was complaining, I discovered an amazing building in another beautiful square along the way. I would have explored it more, but there were quite loud protests going on that I figured would be best if I avoid. I also found myself going down a busy street with dozens of ‘living statue’ performers, many of them quite impressive. One gentleman was made up like the genie in the lamp – complete with him floating from smoke into the lamp. These two were also quite impressive.

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Eventually, I made it back to the original plaza, and from there it was only a few minutes to the Church…where I encountered a bit of a problem. The catacombs are apparently…popular.

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I should have just turned round and left, but decided I’d try my luck. Three hours later, the sun is down, the temperature has plummeted, and I still have at least 2 loops of this insane line to go. When I calculate how far I’ve moved in fifteen minutes, I realise there’s still at least 90 minutes of waiting for me. Given that I have to take the bus back, and walk home alone, I’m not really wanting to risk going in for a 45 minute tour that late.

Then comes the trickiest part of my day, figuring out how to get home. It takes SO long for me just to figure out what stop I go to, because I would have sworn blind the one I went to was the one I arrived on, but when I finally pulled myself to the front to look at the map, it was a the South Bound station. Unfortunately, the station is so mobbed, that when a Line C bus arrived, a literal mob piled on – evening buses in Peru can give Japanese rush hour a run for it’s money. You are literally crushed between people with no room to move – thank god I’m not as claustrophobic as I used to be or I’d have been in serious trouble. It was so full it was actually difficult to get a good look at the station names before we arrived, a bigger problem than normal because the announcements in the bus weren’t working, but eventually made it back to Ricardo Palma.

Tomorrow it’s an early start. The Peru Hop bus picks me up at 5:30, and then it’s onwards to Paracas.

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27th August 2018 – Lima

Casa de Mochilero is probably best described as a tolerable hostel.  The beds are definitely not the comfiest or the warmest – they’re thin and hard, but I do manage to get some sleep.  And as an added bonus, the showers are piping hot…but there’s no breakfast so I’m on my own there.

This is less of a hostel and more a reconfigured flat, and it takes me some time to figure out how to pay since it’s hard to tell who actually run the hostel.  She thankfully also speaks some English, and gives me some tips on what to do today.  There’s a free walking tour of the downtown area happening not far from a place called Kennedy Park.  Unfortunately it’s a good 10 blocks away, and leaves in about 15 minutes, so it’s time for me to leg it.

It takes me slightly longer than 15 minutes to get there, but they’re waiting for stragglers so had plenty of time.  The waiting point is a hostel called Pariwana Hostel, and honestly I wish I was staying here.  It’s got such a great atmosphere compared to the aura at Casa.

Once we’re heading out, our first stop is the train station ‘Ricardo Palma’ in order to get to the downtown area.  The bus is 2 1/2 soles, which we pay to the guide so we can get in easier.  In order to use these buses, you need a yellow card which you buy for $5, but you can swipe for multiple people – so we were recommended to find a local and pay them 2 1/2 soles so we didn’t have to buy the card.

It’s several stops, and one transfer, but less than 20 minutes later, we’re out at the station, and splitting up into English and Spanish speaking tours, and turning the corner into a beautiful square.

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This is the Plaza Mayor, the centre of downtown, and home of the the Presidential building, which is currently undergoing the daily ceremony of Changing of the Guard.  This is a mostly superficial event, but one that always brings a crowd – for the first part, the band plays a variety of traditional and popular songs – a few weeks ago they were quite fond of playing Despacito – and then the guards begin their step sequence.

Although most of the buildings in the area are beautiful and appear traditional, none of them are from the founding of Lima.  The original buildings have all been destroyed throughout time, either through earthquakes or fire.  The oldest building in the square is the Cathedral on the left, which now works as a museum – the rest have all been rebuilt much more recently.

We then head down the road to the left of the Presidential building, and find the Basilica of Lima, built in 1535.  It’s one of the more important buildings in the country as it’s still a heavily Catholic country.  However, the Virgin Mary is considered a much more important figure than Jesus here, because when they were trying to convert the Incas, they used Mary as a replacement for Mother Earth, and the representation still stands strong.

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From here, we head onto the Post Office Alley, which was originally a building designed for postal services, but thanks to the rise in technology, it’s now become something of a Bazaar.  It also doesn’t have a roof, as the glass shattered in the most recent earthquake, and since rain is a very rare thing in this city, a roof isn’t that necessary.

Before we continue on, we have a quick rest stop, and our guide takes us halfway across a bridge and introduces us to one of the primary sources of water in Lima.  Since they never get rainfall, they are completely dependent on the rainy season causing overflowing rivers, though it certainly doesn’t look it right now.  It’s also heavily polluted thanks to how far the water has to travel, people living along the river polluting it, and illegal mining.  One of the many reasons you don’t drink the tap water in Lima – this is where it comes from.

We’re also warned not to cross the rest of the bridge into the next district – even the local are careful about walking through that area.  For tourists, only Miraflore and Barranco have the money and infastructure to be safe to travel around.

We’re back into the square at this point, and heading to the left in order to check out the next cathedral, Church of San Francisco.  I might be coming back here tomorrow, because it now functions as a museum, and access to the Catacombs, which was a surprise to me as I didn’t realise they existed in South America.  This area also has the House of Peruvian Literature, but it’s closed on Mondays so we can’t go in.

By 2pm, the tour finishes up at a Pisco stand with people sampling one of Lima’s most popular alcoholic drink, and people seperate.  Several of us however, are planning to do the afternoon tour of Barranco that starts at 3:10, so we figure we’ll go have lunch.  The guide had recommended a cheap place near the square that had a 12 sole day menu called Pacifico, so we tried to find it.

Turns out, there were two cafe’s called Pacifico – and we went into the the wrong one.  It took forever to get the cheaper day menu (first we got the main menu, then the secondary day menu at 20 sole, and then finally the 12 sole), and when we got the food…well…

Let’s just say absolutely no one finished their meal.  They were very mediocre, and a good chunk were inedible – someone even had a hair in their meal.  Lima is also very carb heavy – rice and potatoes rather than a carb and veg – so you feel rather bloated by the end.  Getting a sinking feeling that unlike Asia, you very much get what you pay for in South America.

When we head off to the Barranco tour, it’s back to the bus stop, and find ourselves on a very long trip – at least 30 minutes – to get from Downtown to Barranco, and get spit out at one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

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The sky is still a miserable grey, but that stubborn shard of light is doing a lot to improve things.  This is the road I used to get here last night, and how much I missed in the dark is incredible, it’s amazing.  This area also hosts a graffitti alley, which holds murals regarding the lifestyle in this bohemian neighbourhood, all the way to popular pieces from famous graffitti artists of Peru.

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The walking tour also heads across the Bridge of Sighs, which, if you hold your breath all the way across the very first time you walk it, will grant your wish, and after taking us down one of the wealthier streets, circles back to see the local church which has sadly become derelict thanks to fire.  It’s now mostly home to the black vultures that you can see literally everywhere along the coast.

When we make it back to the Barranco square, our guide recommends that we take the local bus for $1 – this isn’t the fancier train-like buses, but smaller minibus style vehicles that you can find all over.  I’m tempted, but several of the people I had lunch with have heard of a boardwalk along the shore you can take back to Miraflores, and I decide to take advantage of the crowd to check it out.

As it turns out, we either don’t find the boardwalk, or it’s highly over rated.  We spent most of the time walking a dirt path and trying to avoid tripping on anti-landslide netting.  By the time we reached ‘the yellow bridge’ landmark we were told to look out for, we were all ready to give it up as a bad idea since all light had officially vanished.

Instead, we walk back up the streets towards Kennedy Park, and start looking for somewhere to get a light dinner since lunch didn’t exactly fill us.  I’d been recommended to try La Lucha Sandwiches by a girl on the tour earlier, and so had another guy, so we decided to check them out.

Prices immediately make me groan – cheapest thing on the menu’s 16 soles – and the menu is all in Spanish, so we have to fumble along with Google Translate, but once we actually get the food brought to our table? Oh my god.

I got the roast beef sandwich, and I swear, I haven’t had meat this nice in a long time.  It’s hot, and juicy and practically melts in your mouth.  The roll is just as good, soft and ripping off without issue.  Clearly, the additional 3-4 soles marks a severe hike in quality.

We’re so happily sated from a decent meal, that when one of the group suggests going to an Irish Bar (he likes to hunt one down wherever he goes to laugh at the inaccuracies), we all go along.  As it turns out, Molly’s Irish Bar is just around the corner, and a pub quiz has just started.

Long story short, despite a few frustrating blanks and arguing with the judges regarding answers, we ended up tying for first.  Tragically, we failed the tiebreaker question (What is Donald Trumps ‘official’ golf handicap), but still came in a respectful second with a 50 sole tab – that was immediately used on 5 beers for the drinkers to celebrate with before we called it a night

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26th August 2018 – Onwards to Lima

I was right. Location, location, location.

No clue how much I actually slept, but I was woken from honest to god sleep at 4am by the airport tannoy announcing that they’d be testing the fire alarm, and when I looked round, found about half a dozen people who’d all found my corner and curled up in various areas. It’s possibly one of the warmest parts of the airport.

Since we’re going to have a screaming tannoy going off irregularly for the next hour, and I’d set my alarm to go off for 5am anyway, I pack up my gear and head over to check in. Since I’m using the self-checkout system it’s easy enough to drop off my bag and head through the dreaded Canadian customs. For once my shoes even get caught, which is a first. They’ve been pretty good at getting through without me taking them off.

I’m flying Air Canada to Lima, with a stopover in Toronto. The first flight is 4 hours, and on the official plane, while the next leg is on Canada Rouge for 6. Stopping in Toronto is no real hassle, although I hate that its internet almost never works. I have just under 3 hours to eat, relax and grab some snacks for the trip.

Since the 6 hour leg is with Rouge, there’s no obligatory tv, and I’m not grabbing the Ipad. Instead I spend my time trying to write, and banging my head against Latin American Spanish. Note to self? Trying to learn a language at night on varying levels of sleep is not a good idea. I can maybe remember one phrase.

We land in Lima at just before 1am, and I’m grateful that the airport is quiet, because getting through customs is a cinch. I do have a mental blank when they ask how long I’m in the country – I’ve been looking at multi-country and completely forgot to count days in each country, but they tell me to give an estimate and I go 20. Think I was off by three, but it was close.

The Lima airport isn’t a great place to be arriving in the evening – it’s in one of the most unsafe neighbourhoods in Lima. Most people used the Express bus to get to Miraflores, but the last bus was at 12, so isn’t an option for me. Instead, my hostel recommended I use the Green Taxi service – it’s an expensive flat rate, but it’s safe, and will get me there easily enough. Ends up being 60 soles, but I’m out of the airport and heading into the dark roads of Lima in a matter of minutes.

When the taxi stops about 20 minutes later down a street, I’m not sure he has the right place. Then I realise my hostel, Case de Mochilero, is on the second floor. It’s just hard to spot because it’s dark and green doesn’t really show at night. There’s also no lights on, which is a tad suspect considering I specifically asked if arriving at this time would be an issue.

The door is locked, and although there’s a woman wandering around, she doesn’t come to the door. I start thinking I’m going to have to sleep outside, when 2 travelers also staying at the hostel come to my aid. Their spanish is infinitely better than mine, and they get the door open, and manage to wrangle proof of my stay. I’ll have to sort it in the morning, but I get a bed, and by 2am that’s all I care about.

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25th August 2018 – Kelowna

As expected, I end up spending my very short time in Kelowna mostly in a daze. I have to be up at 6 in order to get my gear into the wash before the hostel starts doing their own sheets, and then spend the hour before checkout repacking my bag.

I’ve finally decided to be realistic and toss out a few things that I’m carrying out of desire rather than need. I’ve definitely got too many shirts and my pair of leggings is rendered a tad obsolete considering there’s only one thing in my bag I can wear them with. I also give a fond farewell to my Jansport backpack, which I’d thought about leaving only to toss in at the last minute. It’s about the only thing left from when I started my trip five years ago, but one zip is busted, the seams around said zip are fraying, and there’s a very ugly stain in the front pocket from when I accidentally left a pear in it for a few weeks in the Australian Outback. The bottom is also not far from giving out…and honestly, unlike my Osprey Farpoint daypack, the Mountain Warehouse bag is more than big enough, so there’s no real reason to bring it along. I end up donating it and the additional shirts to charity – maybe it’ll get tossed, but there might be someone who can still use it.

With only a few hours to spare, I basically just pick a direction and start heading in it. I’m lucky enough to find a phone shop that’s selling Samsung batteries and pick up a replacement for my one (though it’s not cheap and they warn that it’s entirely possible it’s not a battery issue, but what can you do when you need to extend the life of a phone and have no time left?).

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Afterwards, I head down to the beaches littering this area before finding a map and walking the fifteen minute route to the Downtown and Cultural Centre. It’s basically a straight shot down from either the hostel or the riverfront, and long before I come across it, I can smell barbeque.

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Turns out, ‘Rib Fest’ is on this weekend – a competition for the best ribs, pulled pork, sauce and chicken. Given that I missed Whistler’s on BBQ championship, I’m elated that I can try at least a little of BC’s infamous barbeque.

Tragically, the prices of the ribs do make me balk – it’s over $20 for a half rack, which I guess isn’t bad, but for someone whose been chewing on Feast Ribs for free, a little rich for my blood. Thankfully, two of the stands are doing 1/3 racks for about $13, which is much better for my budget, and from the Gator Stand, gets me about 6 ribs.

Opinion on quality? Meat was okay, nothing to write home about, but I really loved the sauce they had. It had this strong fruity, sweet taste while also being spicy. I have no idea what they put in it but it really worked well.

When I move away from the competition, I find myself in a more retail devoted district, and while window shopping and hunting down buildings of notice, I spot a poster in a window that makes my eyes widen.

Kelowna Comicon. 25th-26th August at the Curling Rink.

I had NO IDEA there was a convention this weekend. If I’d known plans might have been a lot different. As it is, I only have maybe 2 hours left before I leave, so definitely can’t commit to buying a ticket – would be pointless since I can’t buy anything or enjoy any panels – but can’t hurt to see the area and spot any cosplayers hanging around outside right?

My brain decides it’s perfectly happy with this rationale, and 20 minutes later I’m standing outside a curling club and watching a handful of vikings and the odd cosplayer watch a pair of bellydancers show off their moves on the grassy field next to the building. Unfortunately, it seems most of the cosplayers and things that would interest me are trapped behind a pay wall, but at least I got to see a glimpse before I headed out of the country.

When I get back to the International Hostel, I’ve overestimated how long it would take me to get back, but rather than head out, choose to veg on the couch and enjoy some of the only decent wifi I’ve had on this trip – I have no idea how good it’s going to be when I get to South America, and Vancouver Airport is notoriously bad for my electronics, so enjoying things like Tumblr while they work. I could be using the time to catch up with blogging, but honestly after yesterday’s travel and my hectic morning, I just want to rest.

At least this time I manage to get a transfer to the bus station – although the ticket officer tried to play a joke on me and it definitely backfired – he said the ticket said I was going to Montreal, and honestly after the last 36 hours I’d reached the point where I had no doubt that ‘could’ have happened. Definitely fell flat on me.

After yesterday, I was just praying for travel to go well, and my prayers were answered with todays driver, who was taking no lip from anyone and determined to get to Vancouver early or die trying. Unfortunately, that also meant they didn’t make any stops longer than necessary, and since I’d gotten used to having 10-20 minute breaks with Greyhound, had both forgotten and not bothered to get any food for the trip. As such, when we rolled into Vancouver 6 hours later (and a good 10 minutes early), I was both tired and hungry. A&W is only a short walk from the Station, and right underneath the Sky Train, so I held off on continuing to the airport so I could enjoy my last Teen Burger. Fast food had a (justifiably) bad rep, but I’m definitely going to miss this chain.

Thankfully, getting to the airport is child’s play once again. Hop on the Expo line to Granville, walk 5 minutes to the City Centre Station, and hop straight on the Canada line, all for less than $3 since it’s not rush hour. End up making it to the terminal for 11:15, and start hunting down a place to sleep. The observatory deck is far too cold, so I need to find somewhere either with lower roofs, or less air conditioning. I end up retracing my steps and sleeping on the upper level you enter from the train, and hide behind a corner which is currently empty. Takes a while to get set up since I have to blow up my ‘bed’ personally, but I can already tell it’s a massive improvement over last time – my eyes are almost shut the second I pull up my jacket as a blanket.

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24th August 2018 – The Bus Ride That Never Ends

It appears my luck with buses is to continue being disastrous. After getting to spend a lazy morning getting ready, I leave YWCA and hop into a taxi to grab the 9:15 bus to Kelowna. It shows up late, but I’m long since used to that in Canada, and we easily pick up the time once we’re on the road.

We’re supposed to arrive in Kelowna at 4, after transferring in Salmon Arm, and the bus is pretty full. At our first rest stop, I get stopped by a gentleman who sees me heading to the bus and asks if this is the Salmon Arm bus, when he finds out it is – and that I’m going to Kelowna – he’s delighted. His fourteen year old daughter is heading there to meet her Aunt and cousin, but it was the first time she was taking the bus by herself, so was relieved there would be another woman getting the same stops she was. I didn’t think anything of it, and honestly figured that she’d sit next to me and that would more or less be the end of it. And in a perfect world, that would have been it.

Sadly, after we left Revelstoke, we ended up joining a queue along Highway 1, which had closed down completely. Our driver gave us updates as he got them – but all we knew was that there had been a crash, and given that all lanes were closed, at least one fatality.

(Later, I’d learn that the crash happened at around 12:30 just outside Sicamous, was a two car head on collision and had one fatality, but this was day later news).

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When we joined the queue it was about 1:30, and like most of the many, many cars trapped in limbo, we walked out the doors and started hanging around the motorway, having conversation with other trapped drivers to find out if anyone knew more, and patting the multitude of dogs who needed to stretch their legs. Two hours into this wait, and the smaller cars start risking going over the median and trying to find another route – one guy impressed us when he somehow navigated his car and boat tow out of a very narrow area – but since there is no other route for the bus even if it could turn round, we’re stuck here.

Throughout the day we get partial movement, mostly from people filling up the gaps from cars that managed to escape, but it’s not until 5:30 that we start seeing actual movement. We’ve had 3 updates in the afternoon with different evaluation times, but given that they were saying 8pm earlier, we’re relieved that they’ve managed to open at least one lane to start funnelling the traffic. Though it’s less enjoyable for the two passengers who hiked to the store a mile down the road who had to chase us down.

When we finally clear the jam, it’s about 6:30, and our driver tells us that – although the bus we were to transfer had held on as long as it could, it had to leave. So anyone heading to Kelowna would be dropped off at the stop in Sicamous, and picked up by the 6pm Revelstoke bus so that the staff could cut stops and get people where they needed to go as fast as possible.

So at around 7pm, we all get dropped off at a car park with a handful of closed jobs and a Bargain Village, and wait.

Around 7:30pm, we spot a Greyhound bus…which drives straight past the Sicamous stop.

Now, I’m still not sure if this was the bus our driver was telling us about or a charter bus, but that’s when the 8 of us stranded in the slowly-getting-colder-and-darker-by-the-minute car park start getting worried. Most of us were working on heavily drained phone batteries since we’d been trapped on the highway for so long, so only one gentleman had the battery left to try and contact anyone regarding us getting picked up. Unfortunately, come 8pm, all Greyhound terminals are closed, and he’s resorting to using a call centre in South America to try and figure out if we’ve been forgotten about or if another bus is coming. It doesn’t help when I go to the one open store to find out if there’s a taxi service we can maybe pool together with – and find that it went out of business. We’re literally stuck out here.

Just before 9pm, the girl I’d been sitting with was trying to get a hold of her aunt to pick her up, but her battery was gone and she’d drained my power pack. Due to this, I suggested that she try the gas station we could see on the other side of the road, figuring it was close enough that she could get updates from us easily enough, and she headed off. Twenty minutes later, and me and another passenger head over to let her know that we’ve learned we can hire a taxi from Salmon Arms who could take us to Kelowna if necessary…only she’s not there. When I ask the cashier, he says she was using the outlet outside, and some girls in the store say they saw her walking round the corner.

There’s a Subway shop just around the bend, but she’s not there either, and I get a tad panicked because I have no idea where she’s gone. There is signs for Tim Hortons in the distance along the highway though, and all the two of us can come up with is that she’d gotten hold of her aunt – was getting picked up – and decided to head to a place she could get a hot drink, an outlet and wifi to wait.

As it turns out, less than 10 minutes after we return to the car park to tell people we don’t know where she’s gone, a bus arrives – desperate to get back on the road from how he all but threw our bags into the storage hold. He – like most of the buses, is hours behind and isn’t even stopping in towns unless passengers request it. With no idea where she is and a ride about to leave, there’s no option but to get on the bus and hope that our theory about Tim Hortons is right.

With the driver gunning it, we end up making it into Kelowna for 10:30pm, 6 hours behind schedule, and I’m exhausted. I’ve also been given quite the shock at the size of Kelowna. For whatever reason I had it in my head that it was a small town like Jasper and Whistler, when it reality? It’s a behemoth. A quick glance at Google tells me it would take over an hour to walk to my hostel – and although they offer bus station transfers, you have to phone ahead, and my expected time of arrival was way off the mark. At this point, they only have one person working…and the reception closes at 11. I have no choice but to grab a taxi and hope it gets there in time.

It’s a $20 fee I really didn’t want to pay, but I make it to the hostel with 5 minutes to spare, and do get the pleasant surprise of having a double bed to myself in a dorm room for $30. The hostel itself is rather nice, and I’m gutted I’ve lost the afternoon I’d planned to spend here. I’m only going to have a few hours tomorrow to explore – and I have to get up early to get a wash in if I want to have any clean clothes before I head to the airport.

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23rd August 2018 – Johnstone Canyon

After talking to the receptionist and looking at the still very smoky sky above Banff, I decide to try the very worn and popular Johnstone Canyon as my hike for the day. Not so much a hike as a walk, and very popular with bus tours, but something I’m capable of getting to without destroying my lungs. All I have to do is get to the train station on the other side of town and grab one of the shuttle buses that head out every 90 minutes or so. Tickets are sold outside for a $5 return, and when I get there I’m lucky enough to have 10 minutes before the 10am heads off.

It’s a 45 minutes bus ride to the canyon, and along the way I befriend two girls from the HI Hostel, Katrin and Rebecca, who become my walking buddies for the day. They’ve been here a few days and were lucky enough to do Lake Louise when the weather was nice, so I’m a little jealous.

Once we’re on the trail, it’s clear how popular this place is, because there’s a constant stream of people heading down the river. The road itself is primarily bridge and paved over, allowing it to be walked on by just about every footwear, but there’s enough of an incline to keep it from being leisurely, and the views of the cliff faces are pretty amazing – you can see why so many people head this way.

It takes less than 25 minutes to make it to the first viewpoint of the lower falls, and there’s a small lineup of people heading into a cave to get a better look at the upper pool. It takes about ten minutes for the current crowd to leave, and then we clamber through the tunnel to find ourselves sprayed with chilly water as we look into a dangerous-yet–still-very-inviting pool.

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A lot of the tours just visit this section and then move on, but there’s more to see, and the higher you go, the less tourists there are. The upper falls are little under a mile futher up, but as we head there and turn a corner, we get a little dismayed. All we can see is a giant yellow rock wall with a tiny trickle coming from the top. Surely that’s not all there is?

Nope. The upper falls are just around the corner and deserving of the name.

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You can’t really get closer to these ones, but 2.3km further host the Ink Pots, one of Banff’s attractions, and the last one in this area you can get to with basic supplies in a day. It’s not an awful climb, but between some of the inclines and the smokey air, it definitely takes more out of us than we’d like.

The first leg of the journey is completely uphill, and then heads downhill just as significantly – more than we realised when we came back this way, but eventually the trail leads out to a flourishing river, and the five pools that make up Banff’s Ink Pots.

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These unique little features are pools created from fresh spring water bubbling to the surface. It’s resulted in five pools, all decorated with circular patterns from were the water forces the sand to move and create shapes. The bubbles themselves are fascinating to watch, but with the way the water makes the sand move, it almost looks alive.

We accidentaly spend just a tad longer here than we plan – and by the time we retrace our steps and head back to the car park, we’ve missed our return shuttle by ten minutes, resulting in us buying tea and ice cream and lying in the sun for the next 90 minutes while we wait for our ride – a tad frustrating since it means we don’t get back into town until about 5.

There’s not much day left after this, but there is still a Ghost Walk happening at 8 that I sign up for, and spend the next few hours having a decent shower and getting my bags ready for leaving tomorow before walking out to the other side of town. The Ghost Walk is about 75 minutes, is run by the local Theatre Group, and starts at a local coffee shop called The Good Earth.

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This was a little strange for a ghost tour. I do love spooky history and legends, but I feel like this tour could use a little more polish. It’s predominantly ‘ghost stories’ – where there’s little in the way of fact. Pretty much none of the ‘ghosts’ have names, and it’s all stories of what people experienced – but some names or truths would go a long way. Especially when they take us to what is supposedly the most haunted street in Banff…and only mention one story. For $20 though, it’s a fun way to see parts of the town I didn’t necessarily knew existed.

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